WHEN THE DEVELOPERS of Arundel Mills, the proposed Potomac Mills-style outlet mall near Route 100 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, revealed recently that shoppers would be able to dine in a "rain forest cafe" graced by tropical foliage and mechanical animals, one was reminded of Yogi Berra's quote, "It's deja vu all over again."
When developer-visionary James W. Rouse four decades ago opened Harundale Mall as the first enclosed shopping center east of the Mississippi, he, too, placed palm trees in the courtyard and imported myna birds to wow shoppers.
In retailing, what's in vogue can pass as quickly as Dennis Rodman's hair colors. What was revolutionary when Mr. Rouse opened Harundale -- one of the first suburban malls that helped kill Main Streets -- became outclassed a decade or so later by larger regional malls. Those centers, anchored by three or four department stores, are now feeling pressure from "big box" discounters and other "theme" shopping plazas.
Fears that the proposed Arundel Mills may erase existing North County retailers are premature and quite possibly overblown. One need look no farther than the moribund Factory Stores-Bay Bridge Market Place on U.S. 50-301 east of Annapolis, or the shuttered Eastern Shores Outlet Center at Kent Narrows to grasp that outlet malls aren't guaranteed successes.
In the northern half of Anne Arundel, much real estate is devoted to retail. Some once-ailing centers now thrive with new tenants; Governor's Plaza behind the Motor Vehicle Administration headquarters in Glen Burnie comes to mind. Others, such as the Festival at Pasadena, peaked quickly and then declined. Marley Station, the regional mall built by Taubman a decade ago, seems to thrive mostly in the holiday season. Management skill in maintaining the right mix of merchants is key.
No one can predict what lies ahead in U.S. retailing, or that person would be very rich, indeed. In reviewing Arundel Mills' application, county government's responsibility is not to pick retailing winners and losers. It must focus instead on whether converting this industrial property in Harmans to commercial zoning is an appropriate land use.
Pub Date: 2/12/98